Showing posts with label teacher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teacher. Show all posts

Sunday, 7 January 2018

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: Oracy Games For The Classroom

Hello and welcome to another blog post on thatboycanteach.blogspot.com, the blog that has done for teachers 'what being hit repeatedly on the head with a large croquet mallet does for small frogs... or so I'm told'. You join me here today as I consider what teachers can learn from the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'.

Whilst the chairman always introduces the teams as being given silly things to do, the entertainment is usually derived from witty and clever wordplay which demonstrate the competitors' mastery of the English language. Both the EEF's KS1 and KS2 literacy guidance reports have the development of pupils' speaking and listening skills (or oracy skills) as their first recommendation - in the KS2 document the emphasis is on developing pupils' language capability.

The KS2 guidance specifically mentions the benefit of collaborative approaches to improving oracy skills:
The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to collaborate; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. Effective collaboration does not happen automatically so pupils will need support and practice. Approaches that promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains. The following should be considered when using a collaborative learning approach:
  • Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own. 
  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning, so it must be used cautiously. 
  • It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks, as they may contribute less.
  •  Professional development may be needed to support the effective use of these strategies.
Now obviously the games that the participants play on ISIHAC aren't research-based but if we apply the principles above, and pay heed to the warnings too, we should be able to use some of them to promote a collaborative approach to improving oracy skills, and as a result improve reading and writing skills as well.

Without further ado, the games:

Ad-Lib Poetry: The teacher (or another child) reads or invents a line of poetry. Children than take it in turns to continue the poem, one line at a time. The focus could be on rhyming words, adjectives, synonyms or telling a story. This game does not have a strong competitive element.

Cheddar Gorge:  Children all start with 10 points. By taking it in turns to say a word each, children should aim not to be the one who completes a sentence. If the word they say finishes a complete and grammatically correct sentence they lose a point. The main tactic is to try to force the next person to complete the sentence. This game has a focus on correct grammar and syntax and might help children to assess whether or not a sentence has been completed. Teachers could record the sentences and model correct punctuation. As an extension to this children could be permitted to name a punctuation mark instead of giving  a word - this would allow for the inclusion of parenthesis and other clauses.

Compressed Works: Children give brief synopses of films and books whilst other children guess the title. Similar to this is Rewind where children explain the plot of a book or film as if everything happened in reverse order. This could be played in pairs, groups or as a whole class and gives children the opportunity to practise summarisation - an important and often difficult reading skill.

Letter Writing: Similar to Cheddar Gorge, children take it in turns to say a word, this time 'writing' as famous or historical person to another such person, usually about something they are known for. This can be played in teams with the two teams taking the roles of the two correspondents. Letter Writing could be a good game to use in history lessons or in response to the class novel with children taking on the role of the book's characters. This could be simplified for any style of writing so that children orally co-create a piece of work prior to recording it in writing. One tactic in this game is to add in conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives to prolong the sentences. Another variation is Historical Voicemail  where children suggest messages that might have been left on the answerphones and voicemails of historical figures.

Uxbridge English Dictionary: Children come up with new definitions of words based on the parts of the words. This is potentially difficult so this game might need some preparation in the form of teachers selecting words that would work well. This is a word play game which requires children to know meanings of other words, rather than the one they are redefining. A health warning exists here: it might be wise to supply true meanings as well so that children don't believe that their new definitions are correct.

What's the Question? Either the teacher or a child supplies an answer to a question. Children then have to make suggestions as to what the question could have been. Plausible or funny answers can be accepted. This game might get children thinking about cause and effect and is a great opportunity for them to ensure that their questions are succinct and linked well to the answer.

Word for Word: Children take it in turns to say a word. The aim is to say a word that has no association to the previous word. If another child can prove, however ingeniously, that the word a child say is associated with the previous word, then they gain a point. This game could develop children's vocabulary as they hear words that others know and by trying to find links children will think carefully about word meanings.

Click here to listen to examples of the show on the BBC iplayer (may not be suitable for children)

Monday, 26 September 2016

Teachers! Be More Batman!


You'll be unaware, but across the internet a debate rages: is Batman a superhero or not? The first result from a google search adamantly suggests that "In the strictest sense, Batman isn't a superhero because he has no "amazing" powers (e.g. powers that are magical or pseudo-scientific)." 

Superman was born with a whole range of amazing powers: super-human strength, the ability to fly and X-Ray vision to name a few. Spider-Man was imbued with powers by a radioactive spider, mutating to possess precognitive spider senses and the ability to cling to most surfaces, among other capabilities. But Batman is just human like the rest of us; perhaps why he has probably enjoyed so much success as a fictional character.

If Batman doesn't have powers, what does he have? Abilities. He has genius-level intellect, peak physical and mental condition, is a master martial artist and hand-to-hand combatant, a skilled detective and he utilises high-tech equipment and weapons. Yes, his vast fortune helps with the last one, but otherwise his abilities are all realistically attainable to a certain extent.

Teachers often have very high expectations of themselves. This may result from the pressure put on them 'from above' to perform. But it often comes from a personal sense of responsibility, stemming from the same emotional place that led them into education in the first place. Teachers expect themselves to be superheroes, amazing powers and all. And it is unrealistic and damaging to their health. A superhero without actual superpowers who tries to behave like he has wouldn't last long. If Batman flung himself from the top of a building (without a gadget) he'd meet an unfortunate end: if Superman did the same, he'd swoop off into the horizon, a silhouette passing the setting sun. When teachers try to live life as if they are super-human, the consequences are potentially disastrous for themselves, their families and their pupils.

"With great power comes great responsibility" is a true enough maxim. But how true is "With great responsibility comes great power"? Not true at all. The responsibility we are given doesn't come with a free helping of superpowers, yet so many of us are pushing our human abilities to the limits, expecting to be able to do what only super-humans could.

Yet we have a job to do. An important one and a difficult one. Whilst Batman battles to clean up crime in Gotham City, we have our own dark enemies to face as we protect the innocent ones from their influence. And we must do it all with human ability only.

So how can we be Batman-like teachers? What are those shortcuts to becoming a superhero teacher without actually having superpowers and without killing oneself in the process of trying? Let's revisit his list of abilities:

  1. Genius-level intellect - perhaps we don't quite need to be geniuses but a good amount of knowledge and understanding are key to operating as a teacher. As JL Dutaut once put it so eloquently: 'We need to be knowledgeable as teachers, not just about our subject, but also about pedagogies, not just about practice but about policies. And the knowledge we as a body have and create every day in classrooms should be heard, and should inform those that make the policies, because teaching is an informed profession.'' There is no need to expect yourself to innately know everything about how to teach but there is a wealth of information out there which will begin to inform your practice. Read the blogs, the articles, the magazines, the books. Listen to your colleagues, your boss, the guy doing the training day. Consult the research that's already been done for you.This is your first step to becoming a Batman-like teacher.
  2. Peak human physical and mental condition - at risk of sounding like a broken record, I must reiterate in the context of this article that these things are important. We need to be doing all we can to ensure that we are well. And yes, our leaders must ensure this too. Being rested and alert can make or break a lesson, regardless of time spent planning it (in fact if you've stayed up late planning it, chances are it'll go to pot if you're tired as a result). As difficult as it may be to prioritise wellbeing it is absolutely essential that it is top of your list: without being well you'll struggle to teach well. Even Batman takes time off from fighting crime in Gotham when he gets a bit bashed up; when you're feeling a bit worse for wear the best preparation you can do is get a good night's sleep then reassess in the morning. Getting rest, eating well, exercising regularly, spending time doing things you love and with family and friends are all essential to your success as a Batman-like teacher. I've written about wellbeing a lot - follow this link to read more.
  3. Master martial artist and hand-to-hand combatant - right now, many teachers feel they are in the midst of battle. Our colleagues the country over are feeling oppressed. Whilst some would advocate political engagement, I think quicker gains can be made by challenging the status quo in our own schools. We have much more chance of changing policy and expectations by directly petitioning the leaders in our own schools. Sometimes it won't even take a battle - sometimes your senior leaders just need to know that one of their edicts is difficult to put into practice, or that you are struggling to complete all your tasks and that you'd appreciate some extra time. Many teachers are afraid to be honest about these matters - if they were willing to stand up for themselves, fighting hand-to-hand (however peacefully) they could effect personally beneficial change. And if they fight with stealth and patience, as any martial artists would, suggesting solutions to problems, showing willing and a positive attitude and perseverance, they are even more likely to win over their leaders in order to bring about improvements leaving you with more time to focus on what really matters: the children. Perhaps a tenuous link, but there are many who would testify to the success of this type of combat. For more on this read my post 'Rise Up! (Being Militant Teachers)'
  4. Master detective - there is nothing more like sleuthing in teaching than assessment. Putting more effort into assessment allows a teacher to spend less time on planning. If you are making effective use of time in lesson to continually assess children's needs then their next steps become more obvious; you won't need to agonise over what to do in the next lesson, you will just know. Keeping a record of all this - nothing more detective-like than a notebook - can make following steps in the teaching cycle much simpler. More time spent assessing and giving feedback in lessons also means less time spent marking books after school. This one works well with the first point: the more you read about your subject and pedagogy, the easier it will be to recognise the clues which will help you to work out what children need and how to teach it to them. If Batman were a teacher he would definitely know his data!
  5. Utilises high-tech equipment and weapons - I have to be careful here; no way am I wading into the debate about the use of tech in classrooms. Nor will I speak on any kind of pedagogy. We all have our weapons - our go-to tools - and successful teachers have a particular tried-and-tested arsenal of methods which ensure children learn, time is not wasted and behaviour is managed well. These Batpeople of the classroom will also have tools which make their lives easier too: the ones that keep them in peak condition. In order to survive, and have the appearance of a superhero, you will need to build your own batcave and fill it with equipment (physical and metaphorical) that you know supports the way you teach and the way pupils learn. It's worth remembering that with every new Batman incarnation comes a bigger and better car, the addition of helicopter or whatever else: our arsenal can always be improving, especially if step 1 is followed.
Teacher, no matter how great you are, you are not a superhero with super powers. You are a human being with great responsibilities who, admittedly, might often be expected to deliver super-human results. You do not have powers, but Batteacher, you have abilities - don't be afraid, or ashamed, to use them. Please don't kill yourself in the process of trying what is humanly impossible - your citizens need you in one piece. 

And they won't quibble over whether you have super powers or whether you simply have abilities.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Being A Reading Teacher

At the beginning of this year I decided to shake myself out of a long slumber, to blow the dust off my 'library' and to become a reader again. I joined the 'fifty book challenge' and promptly got my wife on the case too; fifty books in a year (we are both currently on track).

I cannot remember learning to read (other than the flash cards my mum did with me pre-school) - I imagine I've always been able to read! As a child, thanks largely to Roald Dahl and later The Hardy Boys series, I was a fairly avid reader - the torch-under-the-covers type. Later in my teens, aside from 'Moonfleet' (still one of my favourite books) I read very little. Studying English at GCSE didn't do much to encourage me to read increasingly complex or canonical texts - we covered Jane Eyre but cannot recall actually having to read the whole book. By the time I was at uni I scraped my 2:1 by skimming through library books for the underlinings and highlightings of more diligent students who preceded me, without ever having to read a book in its entirety. And by that age I certainly wasn't reading fiction. After uni, Ian Rankin rescued me when I picked up a copy of 'The Falls' in a holiday cottage - I spent the next couple of years scouring charity shops and buying new releases; I'm now well versed in Rebus' career.

On one hand I regret that I fell out of love with reading - think of all the books I could have read during my 'dark ages'. But, on the other hand, I get to read them all now of my own volition, now that I'm a (mostly) sensible adult. I'm not one for those '100 books to read before you die' lists but I have begun to try out some of the books that feature on those lists: To Kill A Mockingbird, Brave New World, Candide, Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse Five, The Old Man and the Sea. I can honestly say I've enjoyed each one - probably wouldn't have if I'd have been made to read them as a teen.

The benefits of me, as a teacher, reigniting my own passion for reading have been many fold. And consequently, I have come to be of the opinion that every teacher should be a reader - and more than someone who just reads the odd bestseller. In my blog post 'Reading for Pleasure' I outlined some of how my passion has been transferred to the children in my class but here I'd like to discuss further ways in which teachers who are readers (i.e. those who make a habit of reading) will see benefits in the classroom:

I am currently reading 'Reading Reconsidered' by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Woolway. It's full of highly detailed practical advice on how to teach reading skills. As I read, it dawned on me just how complex the reading comprehension process is. The authors of the book insightfully break down how to go about establishing and analysing meaning as well as outlining where difficulties lie. They reference many novels by way of giving supporting examples - because I had recently read some of the books mentioned I was able to understand the concepts put forward in the book much more comprehensively than I would if I'd have read it, say, in December. But greater than that, as the book discussed plot type and narrator techniques I was able to recall examples from my own reading: 'Oh! Slaughterhouse Five has a non-linear time sequence!' and lo and behold, a page later it's mentioned as an example.

It was following several similar moments as I read that I realised teachers must read for themselves. Yes, we should pre-read the texts we read and teach to our class, and we should read to help us make decisions on book selection but we should also read for our own enjoyment, at our own level. Why? Because it makes us into readers and it is the only thing that will give us deep insight into what books are like - the varying ways they are narrated, the different plot types, the similarities between two texts, the complexities of older texts, the devices used by authors. Having a continually growing understanding of what books are like is essential if we want to help children to learn how to gain meaningful understanding of a variety of texts. If we aren't readers then we will struggle to model what it is like to be a reader. We will find it difficult to identify why an author has chosen a particular word or why the narrator has left certain pieces of key information out. And if we can't model reading in this way due to a lack of our own experience, are we really teaching reading?

Being able to read does not make one a reader. Reading one age-appropriate class novel each half term hardly makes one a reader either. By skimping on one's literary intake (and I have learned this from experience) no matter how you 'push' for the children to enjoy reading, no matter how well you 'do the voices', no matter how Pinterest-worthy your beautiful book corner is, you will probably struggle to effectively teach reading. To reiterate: it comes down to knowing what books (in general, not individual books) are like.

And the encouragement comes in this form: it is an easy change to make. All you do is pick up a book and read it. And repeat. You won't need to go into too much deep analysis of your own reading - with half a mind on teaching reading you will start to naturally identify text features and literary devices and similarities between books. The very (continuous) act of being a reader will prepare you far better for being a teacher of reading than if you are not a reader. 

Of course, I would also recommend that you begin to read about the teaching of reading too - helpful books like Reading Reconsidered will open your eyes further to what you are reading in your own novels, as well as what is present in the books you read at school with the children. But get into reading novels for pleasure first - get a few of those under your belt as for most folk reading novels for fun is easier than reading non-fiction for learning purposes it it hones those reading comprehension skills all the same.

So, if you wouldn't consider yourself a reader, why not set yourself a challenge? Be realistic perhaps - don't aim to read too many too soon, or don't aim to read the heavier, more archaic classics just yet. I'd recommend using Good Reads (app or website or both) to track your achievements and I'd recommend first and foremost that you read for YOU - not even so you'll become a better teacher of reading, and definitely not so you can feel good about having ploughed your way through the James Joyce that everyone says is 'an absolute must read'.

To be a teacher of reading, you should be a reading teacher.

A version of this article was published in the TES magazine on 2nd December 2016 entitled 'Throw The Book At Yourself'. It can be read online, with a subscription, here: https://www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/throw-book-yourself

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Blaze Your Trail

The word 'autonomy' comes from the Greek 'auto' meaning "self" and 'nomos' meaning "law", so together the word means "one who gives oneself one's own law".

But I know too many teachers wanting autonomy who are waiting around expecting to be given it. But if the definition of the word is anything to go by, that's not how it works.

For example, many teachers who are bogged down with work are not willing to speak to their leaders to ask for some extra time. They worry that the answer will be no. Or they believe there is no point in asking because someone else once did and their request was rejected. My answer to these objections is that you don't know until you've tried. If you are a hard worker and have a good reputation then most heads will be inclined to listen to your concerns and find solutions. And what's the worst that could happen? I can't imagine many headteachers who would start capability procedures just because a teacher asks for a morning out of class, even if they do turn down the request.

Being an autonomous teacher means being a go-getter. Go get that extra time you need, go get the help from a colleague, go get that next job if your boss really is that bad.

In the business world employees are much more used to autonomously blazing their own trail, whereas many teachers expect to be led down a well-trodden path. My wife, who worked in the private sector before we had our children, and who is much more savvy than I am when it come to employment, has shown me another way. I have written proposals asking for TLR awards, I have suggested that a role be created for me after pointing out a need in school, I have asked for the advice and training I've needed in order to further my career. After a few years of waiting around for things to happen, becoming an autonomous go-getter was the only solution.

Even the best heads need signals from their staff before they can cater for their needs. Start sending out those signals - and make them obvious. Make your signal as obvious as walking into the office and explaining your problem and suggesting your desired solution. Go get what you want - blaze your trail.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Being a Celebrity Teacher


In this burgeoning age of celebrity teachers, is it OK to just be a teacher? 

Teaching is a profession full of ambitious individuals but career development opportunities are limited. Some innovative teachers are now opening doors for themselves with social media being an important proponent in this process. Teacher bloggers and journalists, self-appointed consultants and even practitioners with thousands of followers on Twitter are pushing forwards and making a difference from a grassroots level. It's akin to Grime artists appearing in the UK pop charts. In the face of criticism from the media and the government, teachers are rising up - Pulp's 'Mis-shapes' springs to mind:

"We're making a move, we're making it now,
We're coming out of the sidelines."

And largely, these new celebrity teachers represent us well. I'm all for them. But it does leave little old me feeling like a Heat magazine reader - wishing for the finer things in life as they see non-celebrities become minor celebrities just because they went on a reality TV show once. I just teach a handful of kids and work with a small team of people - is that enough? 

Well, the obvious answer has to be 'Yes!' Remember that time you saw little so-and-so in Tesco and they shouted "Look, it's Miss Thingumajig!" and then acted all shy when you said hello? You are a celebrity to the kids you teach. Remember when you found your colleague upset and you took the time to chat with them? You matter to her. You see, we all have our little sphere of 'fans', and on them we have an influence. And the reach of your influence is far greater than you might think - your colleagues' partners, your pupils' parents will benefit too from he work you do; the ripple effect is in play. Year on year you influence more and more children - there will be young people all across your district who have memories of you. It's up to us to make sure we're famous and not infamous!

You may never reach superstar teacher status in the eyes of the entire profession but to those you work directly with, you could be a superstar teacher. On whichever platform you stand, it is your responsibility to represent yourself and the profession well - you have the power to make a difference, even in, or perhaps especially in, the most difficult of circumstances. 

Your impact is needed. Even if your name isn't up in bright lights, even if your face isn't on the cover of a magazine, even if you're not the talk of the town, you are a superstar celebrity teacher to someone.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/90544929@N02/24642416444/">Annouchka.Supervielle</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Revealing True Colours

I entered into the #teacher5aday29dayswriting challenge knowing that time and inspiration might be obstacles but feeling confident that I could overcome them. Even so, I've been surprised at how, by evening time, something has inspired me everyday to write. I go through the day alert, waiting for a glimpse of the next spark: the one that will ignite and eventually become something more.

Today I've been reading 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini; a quote caught my attention:

"Children aren't colouring books. You don't get to fill them with your favourite colours."

This spoken to the father of the book's protagonist with regards to the father's disappointment that the boy has not followed in his footsteps as he would have liked.

Remember those 'colouring' books you had as a child? The magic ones where you'd simply brush over the outline with water and the colours would mysteriously appear. I think possibly children are those. The colours are all there already, hidden, and we educators have the responsibility of revealing the already-present hues. We have the task of coaxing out the in-built characteristics, the ones that their DNA have gifted them with. The tones that make them who they are. Not all of the colours will be beautiful to every beholder.

My daughters love colouring books. But often, once the picture is satisfactorily coloured, they will add flowers and trees and sunshines and rainbows to further enhance the image. I think as we are drawing out a child's natural skills, abilities, feelings and preferences we will, to some extent, impart some of our own. Some of these will stick, some will fall by the way. But through interaction with parents, teachers, friends, peers and others, the image of a child will also feature some of those embellishments that my daughters love to add. Not all of them will make the picture look better in everyone's eyes

We can't treat children like a fresh sheet of A4 - we don't have to start from scratch. Nor are teachers required to take a Dr. Frankenstein role, creating cut-and-paste collage children from a mish-mash of educational theories. If we decide to approach children as we might a colouring book then at best by the end of each year we might have classes of mini Miss Smith clones, for example, rather than a class of individuals. Children are individuals and (in the cheesiest moment of this whole blog so far) we, to paraphrase Phil Collins, should want to see their true colours shining through. Once we see them, and understand who they are, then we can begin to make suggested additions: Rahim is really good at drawing, so perhaps I'll show him how to use a painting app on the tablets so he can easily share his images online. Ayesha always brings in really tasty baked goods; let's also develop her instructional writing so she can write recipes. Knowing a child's uniquity and interests will give us the opportunity to add more colour to their palette, but never should it be because they are our favourite colours. Just because you're football-mad, it doesn't mean that you can foist that on your class. Not all children (not even all boys) are football-coloured.

The illustration of the magic painting books falls down when it comes to wielding that watery paintbrush. As a child it was simple: dip paintbrush in jam jar of water, brush on page. Job done. With teaching it's not that simple; it takes an artist. We are all artists. And it's all about our brushstrokes, and our choice of brush, and the temperature of the water. But remember, the colours are all there somewhere and we have to get creative in order to reveal them.

Photo Credit: ScottNorrisPhoto via Compfight cc

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Pedagogy of 'Zog'


"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert fliers by the time you're fully grown."


That's the pedagogy of Madame Dragon in Julia Donaldson's 'Zog'. Every time I read it I wonder if teaching really is that simple.

At a recent Talk for Writing training session it was said that "If you're not modelling reading, then you're not teaching reading" and I agree. I am strong advocate of whole-class reading where the teacher models aloud the thoughts of a reader - why did he say that? What does that word mean? I wonder if...? In writing too: if the children haven't seen how a writer works, its hard for them to be one - they need to see how a writer re-reads and edits, considers word choice, sentence structure and so on. So in a sense, Julia Donaldson is right to portray the model-then-practise approach to learning.

But in maths I often take a very different approach. At the end of this half term we had an in-house 'teach meet'. It was a really positive way to end a half term and was enjoyed by all. I challenged my colleagues to begin lessons not by standing up and 'teaching' (by which I suppose I meant modelling) but by giving the children an activity to complete first without any input. My reasons are simple: you find out quickly who can do it and who can't. In this way no child is sitting listening to something that is either too hard or too easy for them. In this way you can very quickly see who is applying previous skills and strategies and who is struggling to make links. As a result you can very quickly start making learning more bespoke: if you are prepared with extension activities then the ones who find it easy can move on, some children you will decide need to continue working, for others it will be clear that you need to intervene, and it is at this point, for these children, that you model in a small group.

In writing I like to employ the 'cold write' technique. Although more time-consuming than taking a similar approach in maths, it does, again, mean that you can tailor the subsequent learning so that you you know what to model and to whom.

So, Madame Dragon in 'Zog' was right to model how to fly as she had no doubt already assessed whether or not the young dragons could fly. I'm sure she started her lesson by saying "Good morning dragons, I'd like to see, who can fly up into that tree," and upon finding that none of them could, embarked on modelling the flying process before sending them off to practise.

I challenge you in the same way I challenged my colleagues: begin more lessons by just giving the children the task, making assessment the first job you do. Use the first five minutes to decide who needs the modelling, who needs to continue applying their skills and who needs challenging further. And then get on with the modelling but allow for plenty of practise time too.

"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert ??? by the time you're fully grown."

Monday, 15 February 2016

>10%? (PPA Time)


A popular call as a solution for teachers' workload is for teachers to be given extra time at school within working hours to get more of the 'admin' done (throughout this post I will refer to planning, preparation, assessment, moderation and the like as admin). And it's not a bad idea. In fact it's something we do.

Guidelines suggest that a minimum of 10% of teaching time is given to teachers as PPA (planning, preparation and assessment), and it is a statutory right (more info here: http://www.tesfaq.co.uk/ppa#TOC-How-much-PPA-time-should-I-be-getting-). So, let's take a rough estimate of teaching time to be 25 hours meaning 2.5 hours of PPA time should be provided. Our children have 27 hours 5 mins of teaching time so our PPA time should roughly be 2 hours 45 minutes.

The first question to ask is, are you getting what you are entitled to? If not it is worth querying it with your leaders. Many teachers won't even stop to work out how much time they are owed.

The second point to consider is, is even 10% enough and what would happen if you were given more time? 

Our PPA time should be 2 hours 45 minutes, in actuality we get 3 hours 30 minutes. 45 minutes more than 10% of timetabled minimum allowance. As per guidelines this extra time is best referred to as non-contact time - it isn't protected in the same way as PPA time and as a result is designated for other meetings such as Pupil Progress Meetings and Appraisals. However such meetings occur only once or twice per term, leaving each teacher, most weeks, with the extra time to use for their own benefit. Phase Meetings take place during this time also but since all teachers in the phase plan together in one appointed room I find that the meetings become part-and-parcel of the PPA session, therefore taking up little extra time. Our PPA sessions are covered by a combination of senior leaders and HLTAs who teach PE, PSHCE and French lessons.

It's anecdotal but many of my colleagues have mentioned that they prefer to work in the mornings; it's when they feel most productive. Our long PPA sessions can only take place in the mornings. I use the hour before it starts and some of lunchtime to make the session even longer and I complete a great deal of work.

Our extra non-contact time is a gesture which is indicative of our leadership team's commitment to reducing workload. Obviously it still isn't enough time to get EVERYTHING done, but it's a helpful kickstart. The structure of our PPA time encourages collaborative working and the sessions are attended by senior leaders - our staff are vocal about how supported they feel by this set up. If you are a senior leader in a primary school I'd urge you to consider a similar scheme.

Oh, and don't forget the cake.

Photo Credit: mobilyazilar via Compfight cc

Monday, 8 February 2016

Managing Marking

The year I began my requested move to year 6 was the year marking and feedback became high on the agenda. With the knowledge that book scrutinies with the SIP were going to become common place, not to mention the expectations from Ofsted, I quickly sought help and advice. How was I going to keep up with the marking when the output from year 6 was proving to be voluminous?

My deputy head at the time was a seasoned year 6 teacher and she gave just two pieces of sage advice which revolutionised my marking:

Mark as much as you can during lessons

Previously my focus in a lesson would have been group work, or even one-to-one work, and whilst this has not fallen entirely by the wayside, my focus is now on seeing as many kids as possible during the lesson. By doing this, and marking as I go, I find that I ensnare any issues with understanding before the end of a lesson, meaning I can address needs there and then, often pulling together a group who need help with a similar problem. As I feedback verbally to them I make a written record in their books which they then respond to within the lesson. This I find to be much more effective than the marking I do once the lesson has finished which they are expected to respond to in the following days (when, to be quite frank, it is hard to find time to allow them to do this). Having done this, I'm left with 15 to 30 minutes of 'mopping up' marking to do, usually at lunchtime or straight after school when there's not a meeting. 
If you're lucky enough to have another adult working with you in the classroom then asking them to do the same saves even more time, even if they're just marking right/wrong in maths or checking for spelling and grammar mistakes in English. Share the marking policy with them, take time to show them examples of your own marking and then give them a green pen; trust them enough to have a go.

Plan carefully so you don't have too much marking

Teachers really don't help themselves sometimes. In a bid to have as much evidence of a child's learning as possible they record everything in books. This is not necessary. It also points towards the possibility that the tasks being set are not that engaging. Children like working on paper, or on the walls, or verbally, and they learn a lot by working in this way. Additionally, non-book tasks often promote the use of other skills such as working collaboratively, problem solving and reasoning. 
When you're planning your lessons think of the entire week. How much time for marking will you have? In that time, how many books or sets of books can you realistically get marked? Decide which classes need that evidence in books and plan book work for them. For the other classes design tasks that mean you will have little to no marking. There is no need for these tasks to be considered pointless just because the work is not done in books. As you do this, be conscious of children, groups or classes who have not done recorded work for a while and make sure that there is always some up-to-date evidence in books.

Since then, at my current school, I have implemented a marking system based on using symbols which represent and replace common marking comments. Both staff and children have become adept at using the system and it frees teachers up to spend more time on writing comments which children can respond to in order to deepen their understanding. Even if there is no such policy in your school, this is something you could design and use in your own classroom.

By taking all of these actions, I have, for the last few years, succeeded in managing the workload generated by marking. Whilst expectations are still high for marking and feedback, beginning to build these ideas into your routine should see a reduction in the time you spend marking.

I realise many teachers will already employ these techniques but have written this in the hope that for some, as it was for me a few years ago, it will be a new time-saving idea. I would also love to hear from experienced teachers who have found other ways to reduce the time they spend marking books.

For more excellent stuff on marking:


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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Wellbeing Hymn

'Liturgy of the Hours' is a Roman Catholic practice which I've not time to even begin to really understand. In brief, though, it's a supporting structure designed to aid priests in focusing on God throughout the day. Modern hymn writer Stuart Townend, however, has written a song I do understand, and I'd like to share some parts of it with you, suggesting that it contains a good framework for wellbeing:

With ev’ry morning I will kneel to pray,
To be a blessing in this coming day
In ev’rything I say and ev’rything I do,
To wholly honour you.

Beginning the day with the remainder of the day in mind is helpful. Considering the manner in which you hope to say and do things before you get a chance to say or do something thoughtless, reduces the chance of speaking or acting without careful judgment. If you are mindful of being patient and kind from the outset, you're more likely to succeed in being conducive to the happiness and welfare of the children you teach and the staff who you work with.

At noon remind me through this day to give
My full attention to the ones I’m with,
Be mindful of those things around and those within,
And fully enter in.

In these days of mobile devices and addictive social media, it's easy to forget to actually interact with those who are physically present. Every single person who reads this will have been guilty of this. Face to face communication and the sharing of joys and fears, is crucial to our wellbeing - a problem shared is a problem halved. 

It is better to 'fully enter in' to the job than to do it half-heartedly and at lunch time, when you're losing the will to live yet know you've still got two hours of teaching to go, it's a good time to refocus and get ready to give yourself selflessly again to the kids who need you.

And in the evening as my thoughts retell
This passing day let me remember well;
So that no bitterness takes root within my soul,
Help me to let them go.

Reflecting on the day once you're home from school can be constructive or destructive; it depends on how you reflect. 'Count your blessings' is a twee idiom, yet many would testify to its benefits. What was good about your lessons? What did you learn? Who did you help? Finding even the smallest of positive events can alter the perception of a tough day spent in school. 

And if there really was nothing good, then considering how you will learn and move forward from your experiences can have the same effect. On the other hand, it's helpful to chat (with a friend or loved one) about some of the difficult scenarios you've encountered so that you can 'park' them and move on.

And in the night-time may my mind be free
To truly rest and be refreshed in sleep;
And by releasing every worry, every strain,
Be free to start again.

A great 'Amen!' goes up from teachers here. A night free of dreams about field trips gone wrong or exam results or that awful year 10 class - what we wouldn't give for that! Be it prayer, be it list-making or some other practice, having a technique for clearing the mind before bedtime will lead to a better night's sleep. Different things work for different people. 

And even though we know in a few short hours we'll be considering hitting the snooze button yet again, with a routine of mindfulness such as outlined above, as your head hits the pillow, the knowledge that a day can be bearable and even enjoyable, will further relax your mind, readying you to gain from sleep's healing properties.

This hymn assumes the singer will be calling on divine power to answer the prayers contained within. In my analysis of the contributing factors to my own wellbeing I often conclude that, were it not for my faith, I would not have as healthy a way of dealing with a teacher's workload. In short, I remember that work is not the be-all and end-all and that there are more important things in life than my job.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Good Evening, Bad Day

When you've had a bad day, don't exacerbate it.

I covered an ill colleague's class today and let's just say they didn't quite live up to my high expectations. Poor behaviour, and having to constantly remind children of the standards they are expected to conform to, is something that puts me in a bad mood. I like it when children are learning, even if there is a 'buzzy' atmosphere, and if that happens I have a good day.

Maybe I need to be more resilient in these situations. And I'll reflect on that and hopefully be a little more prepared for next time.

But tonight I did the right thing. I got in my car and cranked up the Red Hot Chili Peppers (well, as loud as my ears would allow before they crackled). Once the kids were in bed my wife and I watched Liar Liar (it's on Netflix now) and had a laugh. Jim Carrey. I'm still in awe of his lunacy - my teenage obsession has not worn off. I was reminded of how in life's most serious situations there is a time for silliness. Laughter may be the best medicine, especially when shared. We drank wine. We made bacon butties. We watched a fairly thought-provoking episode of House. We did what we wanted, and felt fully entitled to it.

I also turned to Twitter this evening for advice about a work situation, knowing that if I didn't have some sort of plan of action, I'd turn it over in my mind all weekend. Because some great colleagues were willing to engage and share their thoughts, I was able to park the problem and get on with enjoying my night; the evening I deserved.

When you've had a bad day, be kind to yourself. Constructively offload and actively seek pleasure. Don't make things worse, do your bit to make things better.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Doing It With My Eyes Closed

I'm going to bed. I'm actually in bed now. A full three hours ahead of when I went to bed last night. Sometimes you've just gotta go. And that's about the long and short of it.

Our bodies do this extraordinary thing when we become tired: they behave as if they are tired. When we've had a lack of sleep, our body reminds us in rather unsubtle ways. Mine sends messages to my eye saying, "'Ere mate, if you just start twitching, and then go on doing that, y'know, at least once a minute, say, then maybe he'll realise we're knackered." My eye obliges, often for days on end. Then there's a little muscle in my arm who gets in on the twitch action. Eventually (because I have to ignore twitches, really) my eye says something along the lines of, "Enough of this, already. I'm just going to close. Oi, Righty, are you shutting too, pal?" And they agree. They don't care if I'm actually handling a motor vehicle on the public highway, or reading my daughters a story (it's equally as dangerous to fall asleep during either), they just go right ahead and clock out.

And if shock tactics don't work then my body has a secret weapon. One which had me visiting doctors last year convinced I had late-onset type 1 diabetes (it is a thing). My body sends out the message: "Right troops, time for a full assault." (Are you bored of the personification of the rest of my body yet?) And I shake and shiver uncontrollably. I can't regulate my body temperature. I wake up in the night drenched in sweat. My dreams are wild flights of delirious fantasy.

I have to listen to my body when it gets that vocal. And that's how I ensure I get enough sleep. I just do it when I need it because I know it's barely worth me dragging myself into school when my body is going at me hammer and tongs. Even with the best planned lessons, the most carefully-considered resources, the books marked in the right colour pen in a way that gives children opportunity to respond to my comments in order to deepen their understanding - even with all that, if I'm shattered then, quite frankly, I'll do an inadequate job.

To my mind a huge part of preparation for the classroom comes from hours spent asleep. Even when Ofsted come a-calling you'll find me downing tools no later than 10pm, ready to catch a whole load of refreshing and revitalising Zs. Sleep is restorative - it trumps planning and marking. With a good night's sleep under the belt I'm much more likely to make spontaneous magic happen in the classroom, magic that can't be planned for. That's what I tell myself, anyway. Seems to work.
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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Room With A View

I go up, pull open the blinds, set up the little fold-out table and just sit, looking out over the city. It's not a particularly picturesque view, but essentially it's not the inside of a school; it's the outside world. And that's where I go to work interrupted (mostly). Witnessing the weather, watching the cars and cats go by - it calms me and focuses me, or sometimes just takes my mind off it all for a moment.

It's the best place I've found in the building to work after my afternoon teaching duties. It's a bit makeshift but it gives me space: physically and mentally. And a place like that is important to most of us. Our environment affects our mind, which in turn affects our ability to work. And if you can keep your hidey hole fairly secret, you'll not be disturbed that often  either!

Have you found your hidey hole yet? Your little oasis of calm within the walls of the school? I'd really recommend finding it and using it on those occasions when the office or your classroom just isn't doing it for you. 

A place with a window is ideal - a reminder that out there is a world which doesn't depend on what you're doing, a world which won't come crashing down if you don't get your work done. A window gives perspective. Reminds you that school isn't the be all and end all. 

The cats who cross the road, back and forth, back and forth, will go on doing so. The city will continue in its frenetic activity, never really sleeping. Your world can be a bigger place than your job; a room with a view will help you to remember that.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

There's Always Tomorrow

What if I miss a day? I know it's only 29 minutes each day, but it could happen. This is something I want to do: write every day for a month.

I find that writing refocuses me. Writing about my work focuses me on my work. Writing about something entirely unrelated helps me then go back to my work. On occasion, when I hit a wall, I will down tools altogether, pick up a pen (OK; my ipad) and write creatively - that's something that the weekly #teacher5adaywriting challenge has taught me. I've even done it at school when I know I'm supposed to be writing some action plan or other. Once cobwebs are cleared (by the process of thinking creatively) I'm back on task and ready to assess my impact on the subject I lead, giving evidence to support my statements and providing myself with next steps.

So it's not likely that I'll miss a day, because this isn't a bind for me - it's a release.

But what if circumstances outside my control dictate that I miss a day? I'll be disappointed won't I? After all, I am the competitive sort, the one who likes to stick to goals set. The one who woke up already in a bad mood this morning because it was too windy for me to achieve my target of cycling to work.

Well, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa (What?! I have three small girls), I just have to "Let it go!" It doesn't sound like sage advice, really, but the whole point of #teacher5aday is that stress is reduced, not added to, so being able to shrug off the potential disappointment of not achieving a goal is pretty necessary to me.

I love being organised and having to-do lists and time tables, but even when I've failed to complete something in the time I wanted to do it, I'll just change the date on it and shift it to the next day:

"Life always offers you a second chance. It's called tomorrow."  ~ Nicholas Sparks from 'The Notebook'

So if I don't write one day? No point in worrying about it:

"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" ~ Jesus from 'The Bible'

If I don't get all my jobs done one day, and I just need to get to bed so I, ready for another day? Same. No point in worrying about it. There's (nearly) always tomorrow.